Different kinds of love are explored in the adaptations of one play by Anton Chekhov and another by Leo Tolstoy being presented by the Mint Theater Company. Both stories have been adapted for the stage by Miles Malleson. The Chekhov drama concerns romantic love, while the Tolstoy piece is about love for humanity.
First up, “The Artist” is from Chekhov’s “An Artist’s Story,” with the translation by Constance Garnett and direction by Jonathan Bank, the Mint’s producing artistic director. Set in the garden of a Russian country house, the play introduces us to Alexander Sokovikov as Nicov, an impoverished artist working away with dedication in his effort to be creative.
There is a major distraction, Anna Lentz as Genya, the young daughter in the well-heeled family that owns the estate. She and Nicov interact interestingly, with Genya pondering the mysteries of life and Nicov fascinating her with his attempts to provide worldly answers to her curiosities. It becomes clear that they are falling in love and she could become a bright star in his life.
However, we realize the obstacles. He has no money, which prejudices Genya’s mother (Katie Firth) against him. Genya’s older sister, Lidia (Brittany Anikka Liu), has personal reasons for being against any liaison between Genya and Nicov. There is both sadness in the story and beauty in the way Genya and Nicov converse as they get to know one another.
“Michael,” has been adapted from Tolstoy’s “What Men Live By,” with a translation by L. and A. Maude and direction by Jane Shaw. The plot is complex and metaphorical, involving redemption that arrives through appreciation for humanity shown via a character we first know just as Michael (Malik Reed) and a poor shoemaker, Simon (J. Paul Nicholas).
When Simon discovers Michael naked at a roadside and clothes him with his coat, he brings him home to his humble abode. At first Simon’s wife, Matryona (Katie Firth), is angry at what Simon has done, but soon she warms to Michael and the couple allows him to stay providing that he goes to work helping to make shoes.
What we eventually learn is that Michael is really an angel who has been punished by God for disobeying instructions. However, it turns out that his disobedience was an admirable act of mercy, and that the husband and wife befriending Michael also have proved their humanity by extending compassion to one they have regarded as a fellow human being. Their home also becomes the place of a visit that movingly reveals the outcome of the good deed that Michael has done.
Tolstoy’s take on all of this is embedded with religion, faith and supernatural belief. The excellent acting, direction and atmosphere created cut through the complexities and hold our attention whether or not we accept the premise.
Once again the Mint provides us with a fresh, imaginative experience, this time with this 90-minute intermission-less double-barreled program. At Theatre Four, Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street. Reviewed February 11, 2020.